Richard Nisley

Vienna Waits For You
History - World Released - Sep 01, 2013

Look on the map and you’ll see Vienna is smack in the center of Europe. Yes, Vienna, as in the Vienna Waltz, the Vienna hot dog, Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss, the world’s tallest ferris wheel, Sigmund Freud, Orson Wells, and Billy Joel, cappuccino, chocolate cake, apple strudel, and schnitzel. Vienna is the plucky city that resisted the Turkish army and thereby stopped the Ottoman Empire from adding Europe to its list of conquests.

Vienna is at the crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe. Today, it’s rated as the number-one or number-two most livable city on the planet. The financial crisis that rocked the U.S. and most of Europe in 2008-9 was hardly felt in Vienna where 70 percent of the population are renters protected by strict rent control. Vienna is one of the last cities in the world to have vineyards within city limits and therefore its very own wine, and a forest preserve (the famed Vienna Woods). You want great architecture, sidewalk cafes, opera houses, museums, a variety of city parks, a taste of Old Europe, a taste of New Europe, and to see it all in a single day--Vienna waits for you.

Like all great cities, Vienna grew as the result of trade. It was ideally located on the Danube River between the Black Sea and Western Europe, and on the overland trade route between the Mediterranean and Germany. Originally, Vienna was settled by the Celts in 500 B.C. while on their way to Western Europe. Then the Romans fortified the town and garrisoned troops there to stop marauding Germans from harassing their empire. The Romans departed in 500 A.D., but the walled city remained, expanding outside the walls as trade grew.

Those Roman walls were still standing a thousand years later when the Ottoman Turks arrived in 1683 to take the city. Vienna was by then very rich and the capital of the Habsburg Empire, a.k.a, the Holy Roman Empire. Word was the Ottomans did not want to destroy the city, only its citizens, in order to get its hands on the wealth within those walls. Fortunately for the Viennese, the Ottomans were poorly led. Kara Mustafa, the Grand Vizier of the mighty Ottoman army, announced he was coming several months in advance allowing the Viennese plenty of time to refortify their walls and to clear all the buildings outside the walls and so create an open killing field. As important, Vienna had time to notify France, Germany and Poland that it needed help in defeating the invading Turks. France declined to help, but German and Polish infantry and cavalry arrived in time to save the day.


The rout of the Ottoman army was so devastating that they dropped everything and fled. The hero of the day, King Sobieski of Poland, wrote in his journal: “Ours are treasures unheard of . . . tents, sheep, cattle and no small number of camels. . . . it is victory as nobody ever knew of, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their lives. . . .”

Among the booty was something unfamiliar to most Europeans--coffee beans, bags and bags of coffee beans. As a result, a resourceful entrepreneur named Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki opened the third coffee house in Europe and the first in Vienna and, according to legend, added milk and honey to sweeten the bitter brew thereby inventing cappuccino. Another legend has the first ever croissant being created in Vienna to celebrate the defeat of the Ottomans, shaped like the crescent on the Ottoman flags. Yet another legend has the first ever bagel created in Vienna as a gift to the Polish King, in the shape of a stirrup, to commemorate the Polish cavalry’s romp over the Ottomans.

Move forward a hundred years and the European enlightenment was in full flower. In Vienna where the burgeoning middle class had an abundance of discretionary income, musicians were beginning to earn a living as composers. Into this world stepped Franz Joseph Haydn, followed in quick order by Wolfgang Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert, later to be followed by Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss II (father of the Vienna Waltz), and Gustav Mahler. At first, nobles paid composers to write scores in their honor and to conduct private orchestras in their palaces. By 1800, however, Beethoven was supplementing his income with money from middle-class patrons who were buying his piano scores and paying to attend public performances of his music. The Viennese Classic Style, as it became known, lasted 100 years--from Haydn to Mahler. This unbroken line of genius has not been equaled anywhere else in the world.

The European world was changing fast and nowhere was this more evident than in Vienna. The once proud seat of the far-reaching Habsburg Empire, Vienna was reduced to being the capital of the smaller Austro-Hungarian Empire, and finally the capital of mere Austria. Emperor Franz Joseph I saw Vienna through the changes. What does an emperor do when he sees his empire shrink before his eyes? He orders a considerable rebuilding of the capital city.


“It is my will . . .” With those words, in 1857 Franz Joseph ordered the old Roman wall circling the city be torn down and replaced with a wide boulevard called the Ringstrasse. It was a case of 19th century city planning at its finest, transforming a decaying medieval town into a vital modern city. Without an empire to tax, the depleted Vienna treasury didn’t have the money necessary to finance such a bold undertaking. With considerable arm-twisting by Franz Joseph, the wealthy middle-and-upper class merchants anted up to finance the reconstruction. It was to their benefit anyway. All the newly undeveloped land on either side of the boulevard ended up being homesites for their grand residences and income-producing apartment buildings and hotels. Also created were three public museums, a number of parks and gardens, the University, City Hall, Parliament, the Vienna State Opera, a theater, shops and restaurants. Today, the best way to see Vienna is to walk the circular Ringstrasse, all of four miles long.

Inside the Ringstrasse is Old Vienna where you’ll find Roman remains, medieval houses and baroque palaces, more hotels, coffee houses and outdoor cafes, St. Stephen’s with its gothic spires that dominate the skyline, and the vast, rambling Hofburg Imperial Palace, one-time home of the Habsburg dynastic family.

Across the Danube, and within easy walking distance of downtown Vienna, is the world’s tallest ferris wheel, the iconic Riesenrad, which, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Big Ben in London, has come to symbolize the city. Built in 1897 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Franz Joseph I, the 212-foot spoked-wheel is featured in the Orson Wells’ film noir classic “The Third Man.” Atop the wheel you can see all of Vienna.

Which brings us to singer-songwriter Billy Joel. Joel’s father lived in Vienna, making it somewhat easy for Billy to go and visit from time to time. It meant he had a place to stay, and it inspired a song: “Slow down you crazy child / Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while / It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two / When you realize, Vienna waits for you.”

If you can’t go to Vienna, make yourself a cappuccino, toast a bagel, put on a Strauss waltz or better yet “The Third Man” and you’re there. It works for me.

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